Posted a new electronic ambient piece today: "Out of Mind"
Several weeks ago I read a review
of a documentary
about the history of the text adventure. It is aptly titled "Get Lamp." (That's a Zork
reference, if you don't know what I'm talking about.) Anyway, in the reading of this review the author mentioned that the documentary had great music composed by Zoë Blade
. Now, after listening to her music for a few weeks, I decided that I definitely liked it and wanted to try my hand at this genre of ambient music.
Isn't it great that my affection for archaic computer games could lead me to a new genre of music? Of course, I feel like I have ADD because I keep wanting to make the song develop and change, but ambient music seems to progress at a slower pace than music in other genres. It's a good exercise, because it forces me to slow down.
Do we ever get anything right on the first try? Do we every really get anything right?
Music is great because it's (mostly) understood that it will never be perfect. (True, people who only consume music through recordings might not understand this, but all musicians do). Aside from the imaginative and creative aspects of music that appeal to me, I feel like it encapsulates all aspects of humanity in its creation and performance. That is, when it's performed perfectly and spectacularly, it is a moving experience that affects all who participate in the audience and the performance. Performances like that give me the chills, whether I'm performer or listener, and afterwards there's a stillness in which all in attendance seem to have reached a mutual awareness of that brief moment of perfection--a slice of heaven, if you will.
And, then again, when music is performed with flaws, it can be a reminder to all that we are only mortal and fleshy creatures that strive for perfection but often do not achieve it. This isn't a bad thing, because it can bring people together in a way that emphasizes their shared humanity. A perfect performance often sets the performers apart. The flawed performance is inclusive--if the attitude of the performer and audience is right.
I'm reminded of the famous roof-top performance by the Beatles in London at Apple Studios in 1969. This was a period of the band's existence that was full of tensions and interpersonal problems, as revealed in the film "Let It Be". However, when they began to play their impromptu concert in downtown London, the joy shown on their faces is telling. The performance was rough, to say the least. The most obvious screw-up is John forgetting a line of lyrics to the song "Don't Let Me Down". But he's grinning as he stumbles over the words and he and Paul share a look that reveals their deep friendship, based on their music and love of performing together.
Anyway, I hadn't meant to expound at such length. All I was really planning to do was preface the fact that I edited and reposted my piece "The Beauty of the Earth"
after having performed it last week. The changes are really pretty slight; just little tweaks and additions that I wanted to add as I rehearsed it with Elaine Austen, a flutist in the church band. The performance actually went very well and was well-received by the congregation. However, I think that many people who create things--whether art, research papers or presentations--can understand that those creations are never quite finished. Maybe that's okay... as long as we meet our deadlines.
There's so much to learn when using Logic Studio, that I'm in a world of wonderful discovery (look what I can do!) and maddening frustration (what the heck happened?). Anyway this album, which I call "Bits and Pieces,"
is where I'll post electronic pieces that I've made while stretching my Logic musical muscles. About 99.9% of this music will be generated with a MIDI keyboard and the software synthesizers built into the program. However, I can't guarantee that an acoustic instrument won't find it's way into any of these songs.
On a related note: I've wrestled with whether or not it is worth my time to spend working not these pieces (and it is quite time-consuming). After all, I could be writing more traditional music that I will actually perform on the job and sell on the website. But then I decided that the last thing I want to do is start justifying everything I do by a debatable notion of 'worth'. One can never know what will be worth something down the road, and more often than not the value of something is hidden from our view for a long time. What I do know is that I am compelled to learn to use this software and write music with it. This is enough for me right now.
Last night I attended the Phoenix Symphony. Haydn's 60th Symphony, known as "Il distratto" or "The Distracted Symphony", was one of the pieces on the program. This is not one of his more famous symphonies for it's music as much as it is known for the humor to be found in it. For one, the music was originally intended to accompany a comic play (Le Distrait by Jean-Francois Regnard), and thus has a certain programmatic aspect to the piece. But, when performed without drama it still has a lot of opportunities to create comedy on the stage.
As I watched the six-movement symphony, I felt that there was a story to be told in the interplay between the conductor and the orchestra. In the first movement, the horns have a melody that is high, is loud, and is comically tedious. The second movement starts with a sweet and soft melody in the strings that is interrupted frequently by the horns, now also joined by the oboes. And, mind you, this isn't the kind of subtle musical effects that only music nerds can hear ("I say, did you hear that ridiculous chromatic modulation to the secondary dominant? Hi-larious!). No, Haydn's humor is obvious and slap-stick (remember the bar fight?). The jokes go on, all the way to the end of the symphony where the strings suddenly stop and retune their instruments in the middle of the piece. All of this should be hammed up and dramatized by the conductor, and I think the audience would have loved it.
But Michael Christie didn't do any of this. He played it straight and, frankly, I was disappointed. I know it's his nature to be serious, but in this case it worked against the success of the performance. However I won't criticize Christie too much. This is the classical music that we have made for ourselves: Serious stuff with no room for horseplay. What's worse is that this is part of the turn-off for a lot of people. We need to grow our audience, not drive them away because of we're too serious! Besides, if you think about it, music is as much suited to comedy as it is to drama. If you don't believe me, try watching a funny movie or scene without the music. It won't be as funny.
Would it hurt so much if the audience chuckled--or even laughed out loud--during a concert if the music was meant to evoke laughter? Last night the audience was completely silent during Haydn's musical antics on the stage. (They may have been asleep.) My father, who attended with me, didn't even know it was supposed to be funny. He asked me after the concert, "What was wrong with that Haydn symphony?" I'm sorry, but that is a failure to communicate, plain and simple. It's the performer's job to communicate that extra narrative along with the music. In the same way that musicians often close their eyes as they play beautiful and emotional music, or they bounce and move as they play music with a catchy groove, they need to mug, make faces and generally ham it up when they perform music that is funny.
Regarding my own music and productivity: this week was my own version of "Il distratto". When Anali leaves town, anything can happen. When she was out of town in April, I stayed up late several nights playing and writing music. (I hadn't planned on it, but it turned out that way). This week, I found myself frequently out and then when I was at home I was distracted by many different things. (It didn't help that I broke Anali's computer, and then spent a lot of time trying to fix it.) Anyway, I'm not going to cry over lost productivity but I wanted to come clean with my own personal distractions. Next week I'll get back on track. It'll be easy because my wife (and thus my routine) will be back.
By the way, the Mesa City Band's first concert was this Wed. night at Leisure World and it went very well. Next concert is Swing Memories on Veteran's Day at The Citadel.
I really enjoyed Richard Nilson's article in today's Arizona Republic
about humor in music. Part of the reason I am so fond of Franz Joseph Haydn is because of his sense of humor. There's a great anecdote where Haydn and a friend (the composer, Dittersdorf) are walking through the streets of Vienna one evening, when Haydn hears some of his music being played inside of a beer hall. The friends step inside to better hear, and when the tune is over Haydn exclaims, "That minuet stinks!" His joke didn't go over well, however, and Dittersdorf had to shield Haydn from getting punched as they fled the tavern.
Besides the comic antics of composers (of which there are many), what I was most struck with in Nilson's article was his commentary on how we--as modern audiences--expect our classical music to be very serious affairs. I often wish that classical concerts weren't so deadly serious. In fact, a bit of light-heartedness would go a long way towards winning over new listeners.
I love that in Haydn's time audiences would show their enthusiasm between movements of a composition by clapping and cheering, sometimes even asking for the movement to be repeated. I wish we had that much liberty in today's concerts. I like little bits of humor and jokes to show up in my music--I wouldn't mind it if the orchestra wore striped socks one day or if the conductor told a joke between pieces. (Anyone who's been to any of my concerts will know that I'm fond of this). Victor Borge
was one of the earliest classical musicians that I could identify by name and sight, and it's arguable that he stuck in my memory as a small boy not because he was a fantastic pianist (which he was) but because he was so charming and funny.
Consider this an addendum to my previous post on etiquette, because I don't think that any of these thoughts change my attitude towards appropriate decorum and demonstrations of respect and appreciation from the audience. One can dress nicely for a concert and still have a hearty and healthy laugh. In fact, as I just finished telling someone else in a completely different context, I think we all need more laughter in our lives.
I'm pleased to post my latest addition to Shades of Silver and String
, "O Sacred Head, Now Wounded."
It's a great tune--very haunting, mysterious and lovely and has its own quirky rhythmic bits that I discuss in a little more detail on the album page. Anyway, the words to the original hymn are attributed to Bernard of Clairvaux (1091-1153), and the title was originally translated into English as "O Head Full of Bruises." In my opinion, the later translation by James Waddel Alexander titled, "O Sacred Head, Now Wounded," is much more poetic, so I used that as my title instead. (note to self: write a heavy metal song called "O Head Full of Bruises")
Anyway, now that I'm done wrestling with this piece and have emerged from the Cloud of Unknowing
that formed around my own head during its composition, I'm anxious to post some electronic & synthesized pieces I've been working on. I almost finished those first and posted them today, but I've been sitting on O Sacred Head for too long and I needed to get it done. So look for my new album of synthesized music, Bits and Pieces, early next week.
In fact, Anali's out of town next week at a conference in LA so I'll have a lot of time to myself at home. That's perfect for obsessively writing music at strange hours of the day.